"Rien Car Nation," Nothing... Car Nation. For two artists from Hanoi, Vietnam, the words "The United States of America" conjure up images of wealth. Cars are the ultimate symbol of wealth for many people the world over. The USA is such a wealthy country that unwanted cars are sent away to salvage yards to be picked apart before being crushed and sold as scrap metal. So it is fitting that these two Vietnamese artists, visiting the USA for the first time, have decided to "reincarnate" an old American car, otherwise destined for destruction.

The artists, Vu Dan Tan and Le Hong Thai (neither of whom have ever driven a car, let alone owned a car), knowing practically nothing about the car culture of this car nation, chose a 1961 Cadillac out of hundreds of cars on Pick-n-Pull's lot in Oakland. Now, with the help of Oakland metal artisans, they are skillfully cutting open, hammering and painting the car to bring about its rebirth.

Their exhibition, "Rien Car Nation," opens at Pacific Bridge Contemporary Southeast Asian Art in Oakland, California, on Saturday, November 13th, 1999. The exhibition features Pacific Bridge's first installation: the reincarnation of the 1961 Cadillac (donated by Pick-n-Pull) into Icarus, a character from Greek myth who escaped from the Labyrinth on a pair of wax wings, but flew too near to the sun and so fell into the sea. The exhibition also features their mixed media works made here and new paintings on paper and silk.

Born in Hanoi in 1946, Vu Dan Tan's art is shaped by childhood memories, State cultural engineering and his deeply inquisitive nature. Tan creates art from the mundane, for the past 10 years he has been transforming discarded symbols of Vietnamese affluence (imported cigarette cartons and Coke cans) into the embodiment of the fantastical creatures that inhabit his imagination. For Tan utilizing discarded materials has been a life-long artistic necessity. His father's publishing and play writing career put his family out of favor with the communist government, and so prohibited Tan from gaining access to the scarce fine art materials which were reserved for approved artists.

Themes in Tan's work include: Charlie Chaplin, a childhood hero; Venus, a symbol of femininity whom Tan believes is part of our collective world heritage; and his own imaginary creatures. Tan uses these images to subtly criticize notions of wealth and identity. Tan brings these characters to life by cutting, reshaping and painting boxes and objects from Marlboro packs to Cadillacs.






Thank you Malaysia Airlines for sponsoring the artists' air travel. Click to visit Malaysia Airlines.
Thanks to Pick-n-Pull for the donation of the 1961 Cadillac. Click to visit Pick-n-Pull.